Tracy Donnelly has been the "new coach" before, and Clay's volleyball program is all too familiar with new coaches.
"These girls have been through so much change, very little consistency," said Donnelly, the Eagles' first-year coach. "These seniors have had a new head coach every year they've been in this program. I'm the fifth new head coach in five years."
Donnelly, who previously coached at Oak Harbor for three years and at Cardinal Stritch for six years, inherited a Clay squad that has a mixture of five seniors and three sophomores who are seeing regular playing time.
Donnelly said getting to know her new squad "was a learning process."
"We started practice on Aug. 10," she said, "and by our first match, on Aug. 28, they pretty much knew where I stood as far as how I coached and what I expect."
Donnelly is getting plenty of help from her old friend and former Clay coach, Dave Habeggar, a 24-year coaching veteran.
"He started helping me in 2004 at Cardinal Stritch," Donnelly said. "He taught me most everything I knew back then, and we continue to learn together. We complement each other. He's always the soft one and I'm the tough one with the girls.
"He really does a lot of the different plays we come out of in serve reception and he does mostly blocking and middle hitters. I work mostly with the defense and outside hitters. We both are on the serving aspect of it. His daughter, Kristin, helps us out with our setters."
Last week, the Eagles were 7-1 and 4-1 in the City League, with league wins over Start, Whitmer, Waite and Woodward. Clay had also beaten Northview, Southview and Perrysburg, with its lone loss coming against CL rival Notre Dame Academy.
Donnelly said the Eagles' strengths this season have been serving and defense.
"That's probably because that's what we put the most emphasis on," she said. "That's our philosophy — you have to start before you can move up the ladder."
Donnelly credited senior outside hitters Lexi Laberdee and Megan Agoston, both team captains, for helping with the transition to a new coach.
"Lexi is our biggest team leader," Donnelly said. "She really drives the team to strive to be better. She's a very good passer and she hits the ball well, but those things aren't as important as her leadership skills.
"Megan is probably one of our biggest strengths offensively, and blocking. We're not a very big team, but she does a good job blocking the ball for us."
The Eagles' top server is sophomore setter and outside hitter Kristen Kayser.
"She has a lot of responsibilities for a sophomore," Donnelly said. "So far she hasn't let us down. She hits, she serves, she passes, but she kind of thrives on the pressure. She wants that thrill and she strives to be perfect in everything she's doing."
The Eagles are also getting solid play from sophomore setter Alex Roberts, senior defensive specialist Marci Herr and senior Tori Harper.
"The setting is what Alex has perfected," Donnelly said. "Being a sophomore, we've put her in a tough role. She needs to run the floor like a quarterback runs a football team. It's tough when you ask a sophomore to lead seniors. As far as her setting skills, she's one of the best in the program.
"Marci has really stepped into the role of DS. Early on she had a lot of pressure on her. We had a girl (senior Haley Masters) who moved down from Michigan who was in her position and is a good athlete. All of a sudden, that comfort zone was taken away from Marci and she had to work hard to get that position back. She did that, and she's done a real nice job for us."
Donnelly added that Clay is glad to welcome junior middle hitter Alexis Morrison back to the team. Morrison had missed all of the season because of mononucleosis.
"Tori Harper has been a middle hitter up until this point, until Alexis came back from mono, so we moved her to outside hitter," Donnelly said. "She enjoyed being an outside hitter better, but she stepped up to the plate and filled in while Alexis was out."
The Eagles had a key CL match on Wednesday against Central Catholic, and a win over the Irish would move Clay one step closer to the league's final four tournament.
"In June, I wouldn't have envisioned being 7-1," Donnelly said. "I will take all of our wins."